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The Benghazi Cover-up (cont.)

How the CIA’s No. 2 misled Congress

Mar 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 24 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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In June, Morell resigned. Soon he joined the consulting firm Beacon Global Strategies, cofounded by four men: Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff to Leon Panetta, who was secretary of defense during the Benghazi attacks; Michael Allen, former staff director of the House Permanent Subcommittee on Intelligence, which helped investigate Benghazi; Andrew Shapiro, former assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs; and Philippe Reines, recently described by New York magazine as Hillary Clinton’s “most visible spokesman and the guardian of her public persona.” 

Senator Chambliss notes that before leaving government, Morell “ultimately did own up to the fact that he made the changes. But,” he adds, “if he’d have said that early on, it would have solved a lot of problems and answered a lot of questions.”

The FBI Did It?

On November 27, 2012, Morell accompanied U.N. ambassador Susan Rice to Capitol Hill to meet with senators, including Republican critics of her role in selling the misleading Benghazi narrative to the country. At the time, Rice was considered a possible successor to Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, and the meetings were seen as an attempt to mollify her critics. Morell had been named acting CIA director after the resignation of David Petraeus.

Senator Lindsey Graham met Morell and Rice along with Senator John McCain and Senator Kelly Ayotte. Graham says they were not told in advance that Morell would be joining Rice, and he remembers asking Rice why he was there. “She said: ‘He will help you understand what was going on with the talking points,’ ” Graham recalls.

The first question of the meeting was simple: “Who changed the talking points?” Morell responded, telling the senators that the FBI had made the revisions. “He told us that the FBI made the changes because they were the ones on the ground talking to people, and they didn’t want to jeopardize their investigation.” Graham says Morell implied that the CIA didn’t have enough information to have made the changes, telling the group that the FBI wouldn’t share with the CIA information from their interviews with the survivors.

Graham was surprised. “It was the first time I’d heard anyone say the FBI,” he says. And if the FBI wasn’t sharing intelligence in real-time with the CIA, Graham recalls, it would mean we were back to pre-9/11-style stovepiping. So Graham called FBI leadership to ask why the bureau would have withheld such important information from the CIA. “They went apeshit,” says Graham, and offered an unequivocal denial.

Here is the press release Graham, McCain, and Ayotte put out that afternoon:

Around 10:00 this morning in a meeting requested by Ambassador Rice, accompanied by acting CIA Director Mike Morell, we asked Mr. Morell who changed the unclassified talking points to remove references to al-Qaeda. In response, Mr. Morell said the FBI removed the references and did so to prevent compromising an ongoing criminal investigation. We were surprised by this revelation and the reasoning behind it.

However, at approximately 4:00 this afternoon, CIA officials contacted us and indicated that Acting Director Morell misspoke in our earlier meeting. The CIA now says that it deleted the al-Qaeda references, not the FBI. They were unable to give a reason as to why.

Graham doesn’t think Morell misspoke. “He knew when he met with us that it wasn’t the FBI who had changed the talking points. He lied.”

Senator Richard Burr, who sits on the intelligence committee and is expected to become the top-ranking Republican after Chambliss retires, sees a simple explanation. “Morell tried to dump this on the FBI and got caught.”

Awareness or Coordination?

Perhaps the most serious charge against Morell comes in the “Additional Views” section of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on Benghazi. The authors, six Republican senators who sit on that panel, report for the first time that in his testimony on November 15, 2012, Morell “emphatically stated” that the talking points were provided to the White House “for their awareness, not for their coordination.”

That is not true, according to the 100 pages of emails between administration and intelligence officials released last May. In fact, in one of the emails that began the flurry of communication among top officials, a CIA spokesman tells a White House spokesman that the talking points are being provided to the White House “for coordination.” That email, sent on September 14 from the chief of media relations at the CIA to the White House’s National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, reads: “You should be seeing some ‘White Paper’ talking points from us this afternoon for coordination.” Ben Rhodes, a top foreign policy and national security adviser to President Obama, was copied on the email. So from the very beginning, top White House officials were involved in coordinating the discussion of what would go into the talking points, with heavy input from senior officials at the State Department and the intelligence community.

Was Morell unaware that the express purpose of circulating the talking points was White House coordination? That seems unlikely.

Later that day, September 14, the CIA public affairs office sent White House officials another draft of the talking points with instructions to “review the below and respond with your comments ASAP.” An email later that evening from the same office noted: “everyone has submitted coordination comments.”

In an email the following morning, Morell writes to officials working for the director of national intelligence seeking their approval of the talking points. “Everyone else has coordinated,” he notes above a review of “tweaks” made by State Department and White House officials. Finally, according to a September 15 email from then-CIA director David Petraeus, the final decisions on the talking points were “[National Security Staff’s] call, to be sure.”

Given all of this, why would Morell emphatically claim two months later that the talking points, already the subject of public scrutiny, had been provided to the White House only for awareness and not “coordination”?

It’s a good question. And a growing number of Republicans are determined to get an answer from him.

“Morell’s explanations at the time didn’t seem plausible,” says Representative Devin Nunes, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “With these new revelations, Congress has an oversight responsibility to call him back to testify in order to get the full truth.”

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.

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